MAZZY STAR / SEASONS OF YOUR DAY 12"
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Mazzy Star went away in 1996 and even a few years ago there was no reason to think they would return. They made three very solid records that explored a small handful of musical ideas and those records seemed to say all the group had to to say. In that sense (and a few others—both were on Rough Trade in 1991), they bring to mind Galaxie 500, another band that created slow, expansive, and gorgeously atmospheric music. In each case, their brief arc was complete; for anyone interested in that Mazzy Star feeling, She Hangs Brightly, So Tonight That I Might See, and Among My Swan were still there, ready to provide a distinctive mix of of psych-tinged folk, blues, Laurel Canyon glide, and Hope Sandoval’s captivating voice, which expressed hushed, lean-in intimacy and aloof distance simultaneously. In the years since, the sound of those albums proved surprisingly influential, though in an appropriately small-scale way, and that influence crested in the last few years. Mazzy Star may have benefited retroactively from a renewed interest in the darkly sexy side of David Lynch’s aesthetic; their first three records captured that feeling perfectly and artists fromBeach House to Widowspeak to Lana Del Rey have offered variations on that particular theme.
But they did come back, and unlike recent records from other bands that made their names in the 1980s and 90s, they haven’t lost a thing in the interim. Seasons of Your Day is so faithful to Mazzy Star’s established sound and is rendered so perfectly that it’s almost hard to believe. There is no sign of age or intrusion of an additional influence; if word emerged that this record was actually recorded in 1997, a year after the release of Among My Swan, there would be no reason to doubt it. The tone and phrasing of Sandoval’s voice are exactly where we left them when Bill Clinton was seeking a second term as President. The slide guitar, brushed drums, and tambourine hits are all recorded beautifully, and there is enough space around every element to suggest a lack of sonic trickery.
David Roback, Mazzy Star’s musical driving force and a veteran of 1980s L.A. bands from Rain Parade to Opal, hasn’t been in the public eye since Among My Swan, but whatever he’s been up to, he remembers how to make a record sound good and how to write simple and effective chord changes. The craftsmanship of the songs—their mix of longing, weary resignation, and dusty cracks of sunlight—remains at a high level. To hear this Mazzy Star record is to understand why the modest and enjoyable Hope Sandoval and the Warm Inventions never really took off; Roback studied the work of Lou Reed, Neil Young, and Jagger/Richards in their prime, and he’s retained those lessons all these years later. The reverb forming a halo around Sandoval’s voice on “California” is warm and haunted, Roback’s guitar tone on “Common Burn” is impossibly lonesome and beautiful, and the acoustic slide imparting a sense of “Wild Horses” blusiness on “Sparrow” and “Does Someone Have Your Baby Now” cuts through yawning canyons of silence. The record is sonically impressive in an elemental way, and the songs are memorable and distinct.
But if Mazzy Star have done amazingly well bringing back their initial sound and spirit, they also haven’t done anything to transcend its limitations. As gorgeous as the music can be, it still tends to work best in the background, a mood or vibe to give a dim room a nice tint. “Fade Into You”, their one hit and the only song most of the world has heard by them, with its “Knocking on Heaven’s Door” progression and pronounced romantic ache, did manage to connect with a lot of people on a deeply emotional level, but that wasn't necessarily the point of Mazzy Star as a whole. There was always some remove to the project, a certain formalism; still, to my ear, none of these qualities detract from what makes Mazzy Star so listenable and appealing. Those first three albums have always been easy to put on and enjoy, and now we have a fourth to go with them.